Presented on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in the Barn at Quarry Farm as part of the "Mark Twain and Nature" Quarry Farm Symposium.
Twain begins his 1880 travelogue, A Tramp Abroad, with the ostensible goal of studying art. Early on, he describes inserting his own paintings into a gallery's "wilderness of oil pictures," calling attention to the text's complicated relationship to the environmental aesthetics and complicating the textual intersection between literature and art. Quite often, Twain approaches art as a reflection of human hubris, his own included: his consideration of the overblown reputations of the Old Masters who owe time more than skill for their veneration is a case in point. But it is notable that throughout A Tramp Abroad, Twain perseverates on the imagistic and physical imposition of the human over the landscape, questioning what goes into, and comes out of, anthropocentric visions of the environment. Rather than perpetuating the split between human and nature, so prominent in the nineteenth century picturesque and sublime, and common uses thereof, he reorients himself and his reader so that we are off to the side, no longer blocking the view of the Matterhorn and no longer chasing after dominance but coexisting, even minimized. Considering A Tramp Abroad from the perspective of ecoaesthetics allows us to reconsider Twain's work, reflections on 'wilderness' and 'nature,' and connections to the art world. To borrow from James Elkins, in A Tramp Abroad, "seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer": in this case, the art of nature and the nature of art.
Katherine E. Bishop is an Assistant Professor of Literature at Miyazaki International College. She is an active member of the Japan Mark Twain Society. Her current research interests gravitate toward ecology, aesthetics, and speculative fiction. These are typified in Plants in Science Fiction: Speculative Vegetation, a volume she co-edited, which is forthcoming from the University of Wales Press. Her most recent publications have appeared in Green Letters, Fafnir, and Polish Journal for American Studies.